The pandemic and the continuous suspension or postponement of international competitions has caused everyone to lose the references of their direct rivals. Without measuring himself, seeing each other, facing each other, there has been no way in the last 14 months to know how such an athlete was, nor how confinement and stoppage had affected him, nor if he had lost speed, strength, reflexes, concentration, power, agility, security or trust. Wanting it or not, everyone has been hiding the letters. It has happened in almost all sports: judo, taekwondo, gymnastics, canoeing, swimming… except karate. Because on the mat, pandemic or not, the dominator of the kata is still Sandra Sánchez. Kata is a fight against an imaginary rival.
Nothing seems to stop the Spanish, tireless, who this Saturday in Porec (Croatia) has achieved its sixth consecutive European gold. Damián Quintero, who was chasing the same metal, was silver. Sánchez has beaten the Turkish Dilara Bozan in an exercise of power, snatch and concentration. The difference, abysmal, was reflected in the result: (27.2 by 25.7 of the Turkish). Quintero faced Ali Sofuoglu, also Turkish, his eternal rival at the European level and who will also find himself in the Games, and was silver: 27.06 against 27.24. It was a very tight final.
The photo of the kata podium is the same since 2015. On the highest step there is always Sandra, who now, with the mask on the podium, laughs with her eyes. Nobody has managed to get it down from there. Not the pandemic. He never tires of winning under the command of Jesús del Moral, who barely gives him a break. Quintero, 37 years old in July and Sánchez, who will turn 40 in September, await the Tokyo tatami and will fight with the Japanese (Kiyuna and Shimizu) for the Olympic gold. It would be the first in history. Karate debuts at these Games and will not be in Paris 2024.
Sandra Sánchez, who went from being out of the national team (she left the CAR to take care of her sick mother and without anyone giving her any kind of arguments, they stopped having her) and to go to Australia to learn English teaching classes to children, since he decided to return to high competition, he has not stopped winning. Stubborn where they are, she has fought her way to the top and savors every moment that the tatami gives her.
He did not falter in his efforts, not even in the hardest days of confinement, when elite athletes could not train and when it was not known what would happen to the Games. “It is admirable, it is admirable, I don’t know how he does it, but he has always maintained the same motivation and enthusiasm … while the rest of us had to be careful not to get fat or let go …”, the gymnast Ray Zapata complimented her. In December 2019, before the covid tsunami, he had given his parents, from Talavera, the tickets to Tokyo. “And what is this for!” They exclaimed when they opened the envelope … They had not realized that it was the trip to go see her at the Games. There will be no foreign audience finally in the stands, nor will family members be able to see the athletes live. Nobody doubts that Sandra and Damián will fight for the gold as they have done year after year.
“To be an Olympic champion,” answered Quintero in Guadalajara in 2019 (the last European held) when asked if he had a recurring dream. He has been in the elite and in the national team for 19 years and last January he confessed to this newspaper that he couldn’t wait for “this ordeal” to end. Between constant chip swaps and rumors of the Games being canceled, the five-year Olympic cycle has become very long.
“We have been preparing for the Games for four years, it is getting heavy and long for me. I just want there to be Games, with or without an audience, I don’t care as long as there are. Instead of enjoying the way to Tokyo, which is what you have to enjoy because the Games is actually one day and nothing else, it is getting uphill for me. All I want is for the Olympics to come, compete and that’s it. And let this torture end ”, he said. Two months before the Olympic event, with the vaccination process underway and a calendar that seems to have returned to normal, Quintero returns to Spain with another medal, which will go directly to his parents’ home in Malaga, which everyone treasures your metals. Knowing its competitive nature, it is a silver that will taste very bitter.